The caged van rattled as it hurtled down street. The man opposite Sherman sat stern erect his eyes not moving from Sherman’s face. Holding onto the rifle, he steadied himself every time the van swerved. The other one to the extreme end, nestled the smaller .22 calibre weapon on his thigh as he comfortably leaned into the back of the van. Sherman tried to keep himself in the seat but was finding it difficult with the cuffs on.
He tried to get his bearings but all he could see from his angle was a lone cloud in the sky through the iron grill. Again he got tossed to the other end of the seat, although he tried to keep his feet firmly on the van floor. He was seething with anger. “How could they just pick him and dump him here like this? But he knew he couldn’t raise his voice and boss around the way he was used to. The bruise on his head still throbbed as he felt the lump with his cuffed hands.
He composed himself as he looked again at the man who sat almost like a robot, the only difference – the blinking eyes. Swallowing hard, “Can you let me know what this is all about? Where are you guys taking me?” Just then the van swerved and jerked, Sherman lost his foothold and tumbled to the floor rolling from one end to the other as the van sped along what seemed to be a dirt road. Hurtling and hurting, none of the men were interested in hauling him to his seat.
After what seemed hours, the van stopped. Sherman was lying under the seat where he had finally managed to lodge and hold himself taut with his feet, to stop himself from rolling all over the floor every time the van rocked.
They dragged him and hauled him to his feet. Opening the door of the van they pushed him outside, momentarily dazed by the light he shut his eyes and opened them slowly. Then pushing him between them the three silently marched towards a building.
It was spacious, a beautiful landscape, water fountains, shady trees, shrubs and flower beds. Sherman breathed deep. Inspite of himself he felt better already. At least it didn’t seem claustrophobic compared to the van.
Soundlessly they moved through the glass doors and the carpeted floors into a lift. Sherman forgot he was under arrest, trying to take in his surroundings. Pretty cool digs he thought. The lift stopped on the twelfth floor. They pushed him out. In the far corner of the corridor, he could see armed personnel. As they approached two police officers were leaning over a desk and a lady and two men in civilian clothes.
They shut the door behind him. The man who came in with him clicked straight and saluted one of the civilian suits. He said, “Ben and Thor”
“Yes sir” they replied in unison.
“I guess you could do with some rest, thank you. – Dismissed”
Ben and Thor again, “Yes, sir” Clicking their feet and saluting they turned around to leave.
Nobody seemed to be paying any attention to Sherman except for the lady. Sherman looked at her. She wasn’t a good looking broad. Sherman liked them soft and well rounded. This one was tall, with hair in a bun, a sleeveless straight-lined dress. She seemed all bones who could be dismantled, laid in a black case and taken to work when required.
“So you are Sherman Shariff” she said.
Sherman had expected a grating or squeaky whimpering. It was velvety and purring soft, seducing. One that you would want to hug and kiss if you hadn’t seen the frame speaking it.
With a shadow of a smile, she said, “Speak up”
“Yes” Sherman was a bit scared at the same time.
He had never been in a situation like this before. He had just been to his office in the morning and before he could even turn in the key, he had been hustled out and into the van and here. He was still standing. She kept asking him questions about his school, his marriage, his friends.
Sherman’s head was swimming, not one who normally answered but being the one posing questions. There was a clenching and unclenching of fists.
Twice he asked in-between, given his trait. “Can I know what this is about? Why am I held here? Can I ask for a lawyer?”
“Sherman, yes you will be allowed your lawyer, but first..”, she said as she drummed her fingers on the table.
The police officers were looking at him intently, while one of the civilian suits went and stood at the window.
“Where were you on the 22nd night?”
“Gosh, what the hell is this about? He remembered 22nd night very well, it was his wife’s birthday and instead of taking her out he had brought a take away dinner home so he could watch the match. Greta was annoyed and refused to eat. Finally, there was so much of abuse slinging that he had banged the door and gone out. There was no match, no food and no bed. He had sat down on the porch looking at the sky. About 2 a.m he had stretched, walked upto his gate and returned to the house. At the same time he had seen his new neighbour drive in”
“Sherman” she repeated again. “Where were you on the 22nd night?”
“Are you sure, you were not out?”
“Yes” Sherman looking at one from the other, not knowing where this was going.
“We checked with your wife” she said and in her own words, ‘Why the hell do you ask me, you may as well ask him, he wasn’t with me’ – “So where were you?”
Sherman couldn’t believe what he had just heard. “Damn Greta she was still mad at him”.
Just then a phone started to ring. “What an awful ringtone” he thought. She waited. The person with the phone came towards her and whispered something.
“Tough luck, Sherman?”
Sherman banged his fist in the air. “Damn..well, we did have a fight and I left the house…”
“And then in that anger you walked up or drove to the gas station?” she enquired looking at him closely and added, “then lit it?”
“Whooa.. Wait, wait” Sherman’s head jerked up straight. – “Hold on”. Do you think I torched the gas station, that’s what this is about?” Sherman started shaking his head.
Then the guy at the window interjected, “You had threatened one of the boys the previous day to burn him alive, did you or did you not?”
“Oh no” Sherman just bobbed down on the floor. They hauled him back to his feet.
The man continued, “Your neighbour saw you entering the house at around 2 a.m. Where were you before that?”
Sherman flabbergasted, looked at each one of them in turns. He couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. “Please let me talk to Greta, I was home. It’s just that she has been mad at me since that day”
The lady rose from the chair. “Officer Brent, take him away for now”
Sherman protested again, kicked a chair and lashed out with his cuffed hands, cursing and swearing. “Why can’t you goddamn allow me to speak to my wife?”
He felt the cold muzzle of a gun in his ribs. “Walk” while the other pulled at his collar and straightened him up. Then they pushed him.
Walking back again through that corridor, they took him to another floor, he couldn’t be bothered to check which floor. He was hungry too. It must be afternoon. They took him through an uncarpeted area. An iron barricade ran full length on one side behind which were rooms. They slid the iron gate and opened one of the rooms, which looked like a jail hole, the type he’d seen on TV. A washbasin and a commode in the far corner and a raised platform on the side. There was just a small ventilator above through which light filtered in and a ceiling fan which was still.
Sherman was sweating, they un-cuffed him and pushed him into it and locked. After a few moments, somebody opened the door and pushed a plate of cold food and bottle of water. “Hey there, your lunch” and before Sherman could get a word out, the door clicked shut again.
With hunger and the bruise, the throbbing in his head had increased. Well at least his hands were free. He picked the bottle of water splashed a little on his face and drained out the rest in gulps. He didn’t like the look of the food. Looked like dog shit.
He sat on the raised platform and waited. He touched his trouser pocket. Then remembered, they had emptied all his pockets when they tucked him into the van.
He dozed off.
The van was swerving again, then he was gently rocking. Suddenly he jerked and almost fell off. He held on, opening his eyes slowly, he realised he had fallen asleep in the train. He smiled.
Just a bad dream.
He sat down, looked at his watch. Greta’s birthday was next week, he must take her to the new restaurant in town. He smiled again feeling refreshed, feeling relieved.
This story was featured in a recent writing workshop that I participated, we were supposed to have a woman protagonist in all of our featured stories but as you see I veered off, then managed to give the ladies a hold. 😀
Hope you enjoyed!